Ex or new cop car as a chase vehicle?

JM munoz

Enthusiast
Mar 20, 2020
1
0
1
Lewisville TX
Hello, I’ve been a long time lurker and decided to make a account today and I have been wondering lately if anyone or as anyone thought about using a ex or new cop car as a storm chase vehicle? I mean a cop car needs to be a very dependable vehicle and agency’s always meticulous about maintenance and keeping the vehicle in good working order so a used cop car should be in really good condition in terms on mechanical condition, plus some cop cars come with a bull guard which can come in useful if you need to push carp of dirt roads from the storm and there’s sometimes a spotlight to look into destroyed buildings and a laptop mount AND there’s already places on the vehicle to mount amber lights (if you do that on your storm chase vehicle) and I’m sure theres other reasons but my question is, as anyone used an ex cop car as a storm chase vehicle or if you can buy or order a cop car for a storm chase vehicle and if it’s ok by your local laws as long as you use it as a storm chase vehicle?
 

Todd Lemery

Staff member
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Jun 2, 2014
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Menominee, MI
I’m not sure how it is in other locations, but in my area law enforcement beat the living hell out of those things. They even do it when they are driving “nice”. You would even be better off buying a used rental car than one of those. Not picking on the cops here, but they are the worse taken care of cars I have ever seen and that’s not even taking into consideration of all the things the “customers” do in the back seats!
 
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Feb 4, 2020
21
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1
Cheyenne
As someone who also does upfitting and fleet purchases...

An honest answer is, not really.

Now let me qualify that.

Fleet vehicles come from all walks of service. Fire vehicles will have less “road time” but depending on area, may see more “off road” time in terms of roads traveled.

vehicles used in pool service wil typically be the most beat. These are used on all three shifts (in LE work) and as no one officer is always driving them, not much care in the shift is taken to them.

Those that are assigned to specific officers will run the range from prestine to a pig sty. However since it is their daily driver, it *may* be taken care of closer to their own personal vehicle.

vehicles used in LE service will be driven hard. Cold engines in winter to full RPMs down the road.

Mtce on the vehicles will depend on the town/city garage or their contracted service center.

Some state agencies will replace or reduce use after 100k miles, and if found around +/- 100k, look for vehicle damage or major component failure.

With that said, most fleet vehicles are really no different than consumer vehicles. They are cheaper to agencies as most do not have the creature comforts as consumer ones. They may or may not have higher top speeds, 4WD, higher capacity air cleaners etc, but most of the nuts and bolts are the same.

Expect holes in annoying places, no center console, worn seats, worn buttons, full servicing needed, missing car parts, high idle time etc etc.

Know that driving one, you will attract attention to yourself, and in times of a persons need, they may think you are public safety. Likewise, if in certain
Areas, you could be putting yourself in personal danger when brazen criminals see you as a target.

in any case, leave lights and PS safety items OFF the vehicle. Don’t be that guy or look like a wannabe. The spot light and lights will just get you into trouble and cause you and your vehicle to be extra scrutinized by law enforcement. You are also not going to be moving anything with any bumper mount - they don’t work that way.

I have had two fleet vehicles as a personal vehicle. One was used that I got from the state and worked for my needs - and have chased with it. Then again, I am also a chief officer for a fire department.

My new replacement vehicle is also a fleet vehicle, but again, see above.

civilians cannot normally buy these new, as the major dealers need to process the order via their factory reps and typically only take PO’s from a city/county.

if anything, just find any reliable vehicle with four wheel drive and a good set of tires.
 

Drew Terril

Staff member
The main bonus to them is that they're easy to shoehorn radios into them, because you don't have a factory center console getting in the way. That said, with most radios (both ham and commercial) having remote mount options, that's not nearly as big of a deal anymore. Sticking to the civilian version of that model, however, does mean if you need a laptop mount, they're already made for your specific vehicle model. I was fortunate enough that RAM made a mount for the first generation Titan, because there's enough demand from contractors for them, but it's difficult at best to find a vehicle specific mount for any sedan or SUV that doesn't have a police variant.

I'm keeping my eyes open for a vehicle I can chase with on longer runs. The truck is my main chase vehicle on the plains, but chasing the Midwest (or even a rare Dixie chase), I have no need for even AWD, let alone a robust off road capable system, as the roads there are largely paved. While I would prefer a Nissan or Toyota, lack of mounts available may dictate a civilian Taurus or Impala, depending on how much work I really want to do to get a laptop mount in there. The ability to mount radios, and the likelihood of antenna holes already being there (and not having to be drilled by me) really would only be the main selling point for an ex police vehicle. They're seldomly well taken care of, unless it's assigned to a specific officer/trooper.
 
Feb 4, 2020
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Cheyenne
Most vehicles when decommissioned have everything removed, including the NMO mounts. Not always, but often.

In any case, you’ll still need to drop ceilings, run new NMO mounts, clean up corrosion, run power etc etc. You still have to do everything short of drilling holes.

Laptop mounts are available for a wide range of vehicles if you know where to work.

Outside of that, unless you find used - consoles will still cost $400 ($600+ average), plus laptop mount for the console or seatmounted ($100-$1000 depending on laptop) etc etc.

Really there is no advantage to a fleet vehicle vs consumer - you still have to do the same work - if you buy an American vehicle. Several Nissansand Toyota’s have excellent options.

If you are not worried about AWD/4WD, your not in the good areas ;)

In any case, for the few $ you think you are saving, you are most likely buying a vehicle that has seen better days.

In my personal experience, there are about three municipalities nationwide I would buy used from. My old Tahoe came from one and used for commercial motor vehicle enforcement so it didn’t see as hard service -and the agency that owned it did routine and excellent mtce fleetwide. I knew what I was getting and with my contacts, I was able to reoutit it at reduced cost.

one thing I failed to mention, is that buying new model specific equipment becomes very difficult once body styles change. Most third party companies stop manufacturing due to model year specific differences. Once they change the body style, there is essentially no sales, and no one is buying new older style vehicles. Sometimes there is inventory, but nothing is guanteneeted.

Now I’m not saying there isn’t some good deals out there, but to do things properly and not to look like a cop wannabe - sometimes the effort isn’t worth it (cost time and materials with no real value gained)
 

Drew Terril

Staff member
If you are not worried about AWD/4WD, your not in the good areas ;)
That's why I already have my aforementioned pickup that is very off road capable (i put it through far more on off roading trips than any chaser will put ever theirs through on a chase) and that's what I use exclusively on plains chases because it's not far from home and I don't mind eating the fuel cost. I don't need that capability for the occasional Illinois/Indiana 1600-2000 mile round trip chases.

You're right that everything gets removed from ex police vehicles. It's just with most civilian vehicles you have to get creative to mount anything that does not have a remote head because of the factory center consoles. That really would be the only appeal for me, but it's not enough for me personally.

As far as laptop mounts, I used to work in seating assembly for Nissan, so I'm very familiar with the seating design and aware of why there aren't any no drill, vehicle specific mounts for their cars. Primarily because the front of the seat rail isn't bolted in, but slides into a slot in the floor pan, and the rail is bolted in at the rear only.
 

Randy Jennings

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May 18, 2013
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There is a well known chaser I know who uses a old LE vehicle to chase in now (at least last year when we ran into him). He told me other chasers do less stupid stuff around him now.
 
Feb 4, 2020
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Cheyenne
My old Tahoe had the intimidation value so to speak. You’d watch chasers passing people out behind me and do all sorts of not so sane maneuvers, then they would see he truck and never come close.
 

Drew Terril

Staff member
Funny y'all say that. Way back in the day when I first started chasing (was living in Kentucky at the time), I was chasing in a white mid 90s Camaro. So I had the appropriate antennas for scanner, CB and ham. Well, it happened at the time that Kentucky State Police (or KSP) were running late 90s era unmarked Camaros. Each post had a couple, and they were all varying colors (white, blue, red, and black I believe were the main four you'd see) GM changed the front of the F-bodies in 98, but the back was almost the same (other than adding an amber light in 97 on the Camaro). I can't tell you how many times I passed big rigs only to hear a minute later "watch out, got a bear rolling (direction I was going) at (the mile marker where I was at)." First handful of times I'd look around and think to myself "what are they seeing? There aren't any cops around." Finally realized they were talking about me. Since most people didn't know the difference with the lights between the 93-96 and 97-02, they all looked the same from behind.
 

GWYoung

Enthusiast
Jun 9, 2018
3
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1
Bradenton, FL
Having driven cop cars prior to their being retired, I would suggest that their gas mileage sucks. It is not meant to be fuel-efficient...it is meant to be able to go fast and handle adequately when necessary. Considering that storm chasing can involve driving long distances, I would look for something that gets better gas mileage and might be more utilitarian and useful. If going off road or onto unimproved roads is expected or possible, a cop car is not what you want.

They also tend to lead hard lives, being driven much in less than ideal manners. It's one thing if you're a cop and your car has a problem...you drive it to fleet and they fix it and off you go. It's another thing if you own the car and it has high miles on it and a hard life behind it and something breaks...then fixing it is on your dime, and that can be expensive at best, or dangerous at worst, depending where you are and what you are doing.
 
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Drew Terril

Staff member
Having driven cop cars prior to their being retired, I would suggest that their gas mileage sucks. It is not meant to be fuel-efficient...it is meant to be able to go fast and handle adequately when necessary. Considering that storm chasing can involve driving long distances, I would look for something that gets better gas mileage and might be more utilitarian and useful. If going off road or onto unimproved roads is expected or possible, a cop car is not what you want.

They also tend to lead hard lives, being driven much in less than ideal manners. It's one thing if you're a cop and your car has a problem...you drive it to fleet and they fix it and off you go. It's another thing if you own the car and it has high miles on it and a hard life behind it and something breaks...then fixing it is on your dime, and that can be expensive at best, or dangerous at worst, depending where you are and what you are doing.
I will disagree with you on one point, the huge spike in fuel prices in 2007/8 made a lot of departments shift towards more fuel efficiency for their regular patrol fleets. V6 Chargers and non turbocharged Tauruses, FWD Impalas, etc push 30mpg highway, not that I'd ever trust the transmission on any Chrysler product long term. These aren't the old Crown Vics or mid 90s that you can watch the fuel gauges drop on. The street versions all have variants of the same motors, so for a given motor configuration, you can get a pretty good idea of what to expect for fuel mileage. In that respect, it's no worse than getting the civilian version of any of those vehicles, and they do far better than the trucks and SUVs that a lot of chasers are running around in. I know they certainly get better fuel mileage than my pickup does, but I didn't buy a truck for chasing, I bought it for farm stuff and for overland trips. I'd like a sedan for marathon chases to the Midwest where the roads are largely paved, but it would seldomly get used at home other than those long trips.

I will agree that, depending on the department, they were probably beat on. But how many chasers who aren't as well off financially are chasing in things that weren't maintained even that well? I know some who are just as hard on their stuff as cops are on theirs, but they don't have mandated service intervals like most departments have. And since they are using versions of civilian cars, parts are at least plentiful, and no more difficult or expensive to repair than any crossover or civilian sedan on the market from a mechanical standpoint. I've seen some of the rattle traps floating around on chase days, and I'd trust a cop car with 57k miles on it before I'd trust one of them.
 

GWYoung

Enthusiast
Jun 9, 2018
3
4
1
Bradenton, FL
When I retired last year I was driving a 2015 Chevy Caprice with the base Corvette engine in it. It would run like a scalded cat. Crown Vics didn't stand a prayer against it. The Crown Vic I drove before that got about 10 mpg. It sucked gas. I never checked the mileage on the Caprice, but it had to be better than the Crown Vic.
That doesn't mean it got 'good mileage', just that it was better than the Crown Vic. I don't necessarily think a base Corvette engine is designed to put a premium on mileage and fuel efficiency, but I could be wrong.

Cop cars with 57k mileage don't go to auction unless they have a major problem. When I left we had guys in Crown Vics with over 100k on them. Chevy dropped the Caprices so we were going to Tahoes.

Guys chasing may be driving beaters so if they run into serious hail it ain't beating up their 'good' cars.

If I was wanting a chase car, per se, I might look at a Subaru Outback or Forester. That would get you better mileage and AWD and a little higher ground clearance than a regular car. Or I might consider a Taco. I would think if you chase a lot, over distance, gas costs would have to be factored in. And if you got a Taco and put a topper on the back, you could sleep in back if you got caught a long way out and had to.

I'm no expert, and my opinion is worth every penny you paid for it...maybe less.

And for the record, right now I drive a 2015 Sunset Orange automatic Jeep Wrangler Unlimited. Always wanted a Wrangler, so that's one thing I've crossed off my bucket list.
 
May 25, 2014
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Those Caprices were missiles. Import versions of the Holden Commodore. Oddly enough, for being a "Chevrolet" product, I understand that finding parts for them in America is a bit of a challenge, from what I've heard. Australian part numbers, no real cross-reference, things like that. Many of the parts are here, some had to be shipped in, but doing the reference and actually finding them in the stockrooms of auto parts stores was a headache. Some departments even offloaded them, because of that, before the run was over.

The Pontiac G8, Pontiac GTO, and Chevrolet SS had similar stories. Extremely tough, fast cars, and finding parts was hard.

Personally, I drive a civilian/retail version of the Ford Police Interceptor Sedan, in the form of a final-generation Taurus SEL AWD, and sort of just wished I'd have found a FPIS that wasn't beaten to death (easier said than done). The civilian version has a gigantic center console that takes up every spare bit of space in the cabin, with a floor-mounted shifter, so I can't even remove the console to make room for my two-way radios and other assorted gear. From what I am reading, I could obtain the steering column and some dash bits from an FPIS, convert it to column-shift, but that would require somehow tricking the computer into no longer showing sequential shift for the transmission, and it's just a pain. I had to top-mount or remote-mount everything as it is.

One thing I can definitely attest to is the warm welcome you will receive from your local police. The Troopers here continually stopped me to check things out for two years after I got this car. Aggressively. Threatening warrantless searches, the full deal. Apparently being a ham radio operator, having a few antennas on the car, and driving a civilian variant of a police vehicle is enough to send Troopers to your house, pulling out measuring tapes, calling the shop that did your safety inspection, shipping out nonsense tickets in the mail, just a wonderful experience. They will not care if the baseline is "I'm a fire officer and a ham radio operator, and this was the cheapest car on the lot".

This isn't to say that if you want one, you shouldn't get one. This is still a free country, nominally, and the cops actually have to play by rules. I'm not really of the opinion that everything a cop doesn't like should be illegal, so feel free to do as you want. Just know that it will likely come with irritation and hassle involved.

The up-shot of driving a former police vehicle, or a civilian variant of one, is that certain items (brush guards, laptop mounts, trunk trays, radio mounts) are made that are usually plentiful for cheap on the used market. This also goes for civilian vehicles that are commonly used as police vehicles, or even fire/EMS or construction vehicles. Since the FPIU didn't debut until after the 5th-generation Explorer did, there is actually a Havis Shields radio console for the retail Explorer with the floor shifter. A great many civilian pickup trucks have custom floor plates for laptop mounts. It's something that should be evaluated on a personal basis, and of course, you've already been given many opinions here to base that decision on.